March 13, 2015

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Social interaction means more than just passing time

Cynthia DewesMost people seek the company of others at one time or another. Babies start out as social creatures, even when their play is side by side rather than interacting with their little pals. If children don’t display an effort to make social contact by a certain age, we begin to suspect that they’re autistic or at least have some kind of problem.

Parents and other adults encourage their kids to be social. They throw fancy birthday parties for tots, who are clueless about what’s going on but who enjoy the presents and the cake and being the center of everyone’s attention. Parents arrange play dates and invite their friends’ children for sleepovers.

When children have siblings, there are even more opportunities to learn about relationships. And whether they intend to or not, parents teach valuable social lessons every day, both inside and outside the family. They teach cooperation, and the importance of listening to others and respecting their opinions. They teach the wide range of human aspiration and imagination.

Children learn to share with others through social occasions. They may be offended having to share a toy with a fellow daycare client at age 2, but by 5 or 6 they’re usually able to enjoy feeling generous. And when they’ve matured to the level of social interaction which is love, they are ready to share their lives.

The result of such social connection is the building of community. We become good at it, building communities of family, workplaces, friends or parishes. We establish political communities and nations, military alliances and international cooperation groups. Community is a reflection of God because it is a unit dedicated to a good purpose.

A large part of this premise is based upon unselfishness. Community builders are thinking of the good of others first rather than of themselves. They can visualize a bigger picture of what is good for all, as opposed to narrowing in on their personal desires. When the two coincide, that’s great, but if not the community builder can still take satisfaction from doing what’s best for all.

Now, some folks are more social than others, and that’s OK. Some people have one or two close friends, and others have many. Some are always the life of the party, and there’s always a party, while others are happy to sit back and enjoy the scene. Still, both are contributing to a healthy social fabric in their area.

Sometimes social interaction is sad, as with funerals, or impassioned, as in political crises. Sometimes social interaction is instructive, as in school, or exciting, as in being invited to meet the president of the United States or make a speech to one’s peers. Sometimes, and hopefully often, it’s having fun with people we love, laughing a lot and feeling free.

No matter the context, social interaction of the right kind is always about love: Love of God, or love of certain people or ideas. It’s always hopeful and ultimately uplifting. This love is not always about hugs and kisses or swells of emotion for another, nor does it even require that we like everyone.

No, loving social interaction means that we approach everyone we meet with an expectation of good. Who knows, we might be encountering Jesus in disguise? And if they don’t turn out to be the Jesus we expect, we can at least give them a break before we pass judgments, and hope they’ll do the same for us.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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